I love snorkeling!  And Ambergris Caye, Belize is a wonderful place to do it.  Warm crystal clear water, beautiful reefs and frolicking sea turtles.  There is nothing as relaxing as floating on top of the water, watching amazing sea life, with the warm sun on your back.  

It’s usually in this relaxing moment that my brain betrays me.  I start to hear that John Williams soundtrack from my childhood.  The beating heart sound from Jaws, slow at first (bum bum…bum bum) and then speeding up with my heartbeat.  Suddenly the beautiful reef seems scary, panic sets in, and I am out of the water.

Sharks terrify me.  It has no rational basis.

So when my husband suggested a catamaran ride to “Shark Alley” to swim with sharks and rays, I thought he was crazy.  Swimming with sharks!?!  Why would I do that? But these sharks aren’t scary, they’re just nurse sharks.

Nurse sharks are bottom feeders, who can get large, up to about 15 feet long.  They usually eat sea snails and mollusks with their very small mouths. So they have no interest in eating people.  But you shouldn’t step on them.

Ambergris Caye has a portion of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, a 1000km barrier reef that runs from the top of the Yucatán down past Belize to Guatemala and Honduras.  This area is abundant with fish and marine animals, as well as some beautiful reefs, including nurse sharks and southern manta rays.  

Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a popular destination on the reef for people looking to swim with the sharks and manta rays.  To get to the marine reserve, you can buy tickets on a tour boat from the San Pedro pier (on the East side of town, not the international pier on the West side).  There are several operators to choose from.  

Or, you can do what we did and hire a catamaran for a half or full-day trip out to the reserve with a captain and first mate.  We hired it through the property manager of our vacation rental.  It cost us about $300 USD for 5 people for a half-day trip from our dock, 6 miles north of San Pedro, down past San Pedro to the reserve, but prices are subject to change.

The boat we sailed on was El Gato, captained by Geraldo Badillo and first mate Justo.  You can find more information on their boat here: http://ambergriscaye.com/elgato/.  The boat was great, with plenty of room to sunbathe (or hide in the shade).  The boys rode on the front of the boat, hanging their heads off the side and looking for dolphins.  Geraldo and Justo cooked us a delicious lunch of conch ceviche and grilled chicken and fish while we snorkeled in a spot near the reserve, and then we moved to the reserve and swam with the sharks.

I wasn’t going to do it.  I was going to stay on the boat and take pictures of the boys swimming with the sharks.  I knew it was safe and was trying to sound brave for my kids but I didn’t really think that I could do it.   

Geraldo anchored the boat and threw some chum in the water to get the sharks attention.  Instantly our boat was surrounded by nurse sharks and Manta Rays.  Justo jumped in and invited us into the water.  Everyone was in agreement that Dad should go first.  Rich jumped in with his snorkel and swam around.  He called for us to follow but the boys yelled mom first and refused to jump without me.  What could I do?  I jumped!  

It was great.  Nurse sharks are beautiful and not scary at all.  The Manta Rays were enormous and graceful creatures, gliding across the ocean floor and going nose to nose with the sharks for bits of chum.

The boys were still reluctant to go in.  They stood on the edge of the boat and dared each other to jump.  Finally, with a little push from their big brother our twins jumped in.  Assured that his little brothers had not been eaten, our oldest jumped in and we all had a blast!

Swimming with the sharks has really lessened my fear of sharks and I feel less nervous snorkeling now.  I would highly recommend a trip to Shark Alley for anyone visiting Ambergris Caye.  It was the highlight of our time in Belize.

Swimming with Sharks in Ambergris Caye, Belize


    • You should try it when the kids are a little older! It was really fun!

    • Sabine, I worried about the same thing so I did some research before I went. Nurse sharks can grow pretty large but they are bottom dwellers with small mouths. They eat sea snails and small fish. I wouldn’t swim with them if there was any danger.

  1. I think I would be just happy to see them from the boat! I don’t quite like intruding in their territory too much, especially if there are lot of boats with tourists doing the same thing. But I can imagine it would be an amazing experience none the less, we once went snorkelling in Malaysia and saw sharks but they were tiny, these look much bigger!
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    • Richard Reply

      They are actually quite used to snorkelers in Shark Alley. They move around in packs as boats arrive, eat up the scraps offered by the captains, and move along to the next boat.

  2. What an awesome experience! I would have been a little hesitant, too, so I can’t blame your boys one bit. 🙂

    • Richard Reply

      Thanks, we had an amazing time and would do it again in a heartbeat!

  3. I once saw a shark while snorkelling in the Maldives and literally climbed onto my husband’s back… I don’t think I could do it, but I’m sure it would be an incredible experience- if I wasn’t such a scaredy cat!

  4. I recently did some scuba diving in Andamans. Despite all encouragement by fellow divers, I am still scared of the marine creatures, as about 98% of them are deadly for human beings (venom, stings, etc.). But the experience you have recounted here seems worth trying!
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  5. I adore the Caribbean, but have not made it over to Belize, yet. This just makes me want to book my trip NOW! This looks like such a cool place to Scuba dive. Thanks for sharing your photos and story.

  6. There are so many times when we start with one perception and end with another. Personally, I applaud you for getting over your fear, but I still hear the Jaws theme whenever I simply hear the word “shark”.

  7. Might have to try this, when i visits Belize on a cruise ship I went inland and saw someI guess they were Mayan ruins… Went swimming with Sting Rays in Cayman Islands though… 🙂

  8. I love everything about what you have done out on the water and the Cat looks amazing. But, there is no way you would get me out in the water where there are sharks. I grew up near shark infested oceans and it’s probably had that impact on me. Love how the boys are egging each other on. I would die if one pushed me in 🙂

  9. Ambergris Caye is one of our favorite places in the world! You guys look like you had so much fun.

  10. Pingback: 8 Sunny Destinations to Cure the Winter Blues - Our Family Travel Adventures

  11. Oh no! scary! It is great experienced to you guys but you overcome your fear! Unforgettable though! Thanks for sharing good pictures and blog with us well to know that it is safe.

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